Feature – What Assigners Really Do

Some people think assigners have an easy job. But the truth is that the demands of assigning coupled with the pressure being applied by coaches, schools and the officials themselves rule out the undertaking for the faint of heart.



By Jeffrey Stern

From the outside looking in, assigning officials sounds like a simple enough task: Make a grid, get the schedule, fill in the dates, put names next to the dates. Done. Just that easy. Just that quick.

As a wise man once said, if it were that easy, anyone could do it. Turns out, there is a lot more to it than that.

Participants in a panel discussion at the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit provided a glimpse of the process that is assigning officials.

“I think there’s a misconception that when you’re assigning, you just kind of put names on games,” said Dana Pappas, commissioner of officials for the New Mexico Activities Association.

For instance, what kind of things do assigners worry about? Bill Carollo, coordinator of college football officials for the Midwest Football Officials Alliance, which includes the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Football conferences, has sleepless nights wondering if he’s covered every possible base.

“I never assigned until a few years ago,” Carollo said. “My biggest worry was always if I missed a game; if I made a mistake. It’s a lot of administrative responsibility. So I would always worry and double check and make sure, and then put the responsibility back on the school to make sure that these are the games that they’ve asked us to assign and have that confirmed. But I’d always worry about maybe someone not showing up because I didn’t assign it.”

Jim Corstange assigns football and basketball officials in the southwest part of Michigan. Despite years of experience, he still frets over possible mistakes.

“Dealing with 50 schools, 50
athletic directors, and they keep changing their schedules constantly, you want to make sure that your game is correct,” Corstange said.
“Then I want to make sure those officials show up. Yes I use ArbiterSports (Internet-based assigning) and yes I send out reminders. But I usually call that same day just to make sure, just to double check, and then I feel comfortable. And if the game time is 7:00 and if my phone rings at 6:30, I get nervous.”

“In our office, I do all the postseason assignments,” Pappas said. “There are weekends when I’ll have 80 games and 240 basketball officials. The entire time I’m just looking at my phone because nothing is worse than a 1 p.m. start and your phone is ringing at 12:30 (with an administrator asking), ‘Are we going to have officials for this first-round state playoff game?’”

Assist Advancement?

In some cases, an official is being offered a reward for good work with an assignment, or is being given his or her first crack at a big game. Assigners like to help up-and-comers in that way, but how do they weigh that against the comfort of the known quantity, the veteran who has handled plum assignments before?

“I like to put the rookie, if you will, in with the veteran crew,” said Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and coordinator of basketball officials for the Northeast Conference. “With three officials, it’s sometimes easy to let that happen.”

As the coordinator of a lower-profile collegiate conference, Lopes sees developing the next cadre of top officials as part of his job. “It’s my goal to lose (promising) officials,” he said. “When I say lose, I mean that they get promoted and move up to, say, the Big East or the Big Ten. If I can give them that foundation, I think that’s an important role that we play as assigners.”

Carollo takes a similar tack. “I think you have certain games and you want a veteran and experienced official on that game,” he said. “I tend more to look at the merits of it. Is he ready for that game? You try to work them in.”

As a football assigner, one advantage Carollo has is the size of the crew. “It’s harder to hide on the basketball court with two or three officials. But you can slide somebody in as an alternate in football as one of the position officials,” he said. “Certainly I think that merit is really important but you have to blend that in with some experience. And you don’t get that experience unless you put a young guy in and match him up with an experienced referee, and you want him to shadow that guy for the day. You put him on the sideline or on the field. I say, ‘You’re going to be on this person’s crew, and I want you to watch how he handles his pregame, how he handles the game, how he handles the professionalism and the communication on the sideline.’ That’s how you learn. You have to give them experience and give them a chance to make a mistake. I’m OK with the young guy making a mistake.”

At the high school level, Corstange encourages crews to work with newer officials on freshman and JV games. But he relies on his own eyes and ears to find out who’s earned a promotion.

“When you look at the games you want to make sure you have the right people there,” he said. “And how do they get that? From what they’ve done in the past. At my level, I’ve got 25 games a night. I can’t be at all 25 places (to observe). And I rarely have an observer watching the officials. Some of my officials who get injured want to be involved, and they say, ‘Hey, can I go evaluate for you?’ So I do have a couple people that keep doing that for me, but I rely a lot on my veteran officials to give me input on younger officials to see if they are capable of doing those varsity games.”

Brian Hemelgarn does some assigning and training for the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials and is an active volleyball official. He said mixing veterans with newer officials is common in volleyball. But he also acknowledged that assigners have to balance rewards with the perils of moving someone up too quickly. “I think it’s important that we challenge referees when we give them matches but not put them in a position where they’re not going to be successful,” he said. “So at least in volleyball, for example, giving someone a level of play that they can be challenged yet still find a reasonable level of success is extremely important. We’ve got a lot of younger referees with less experience at least in terms of number of years that call really good matches. And so they sometimes get a primo assignment over a veteran who might deserve the opportunity in terms of experience. But the newer folks coming up are really out there working hard and they get the better assignments at times.”

Handle Coaches

Whether the officials working games are veterans, newcomers or in between, there are going to be disgruntled coaches or athletic directors. The delicate balance of keeping the customers happy with supporting officials is a challenge for assigners.

“When we took over the league four or five years ago, we had a coaches meeting and we got approval from the commissioner,” Lopes said. “We have two rules with our coaches. One is don’t call me the night of a game. The emotion is too high, they can’t see straight, they’re not objective, it’s always our fault anyway. So with that said the next day go look at the film, jot down the notes you want to make, and then call me.”

Lopes said many coaches found that once they had time to look at video of the play, they didn’t need to make the angry phone call. “Because after they reviewed the plays, our officials were correct. That happens 90 plus percent of the time,” he said.

The second rule, Lopes said, comes into play if he is present at a game. He tells the coaches, “Don’t make any signals to me. I can’t help you,” he said. “I never sit at the press table. I’m in the stands somewhere where they can’t see me. But they know I’m there.”

If the coach is unwise enough to gesture to Lopes, the officials have been instructed to slap them with a technical foul. “It’s been, luckily, somewhat successful,” he said. “The coaches are pretty positive. They like what’s being done.”

Carollo’s philosophy in regard to coach’s phone calls is pretty basic. “I don’t give my head coaches my phone number,” he said. “I make them go to their athletic director first. I don’t care whether it’s after the game or whatever. (After talking with the coach), if the athletic director feels that they need to talk to me, I let them give me a call. And I’ve had that happen several times, but I’ll never take a call after the game.”

“I save coaches’ phone numbers in my phone,” Pappas said. “If it’s Tuesday night and (a coach’s number) comes up on my (caller ID), I scream. Then I’ll call the next day and I’ll say, ‘Coach, what’s going on?’ ‘Nothing, I was just mad last night.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s why I didn’t answer your call.’ You do get pretty good at monitoring those things.”

Identify the Red Flags

It is important for an assigner to not only know the kind of official being sent out to work, but the kind of person. As Carollo put it, “It behooves us to know exactly what the expectations are for an official to be in this conference.”

Background checks are common today at all levels and may or may not fall under the assigner’s purview.

“The NCAA has taken over that responsibility,” Carollo said. “But we also do background checks through the Big Ten office and through my (Football Championship Subdivision) conferences. The guys know that if it’s drunken driving or something out of the court or even financial issues, we get involved in all those and we do a check. And sometimes red flags will come up, and we want to look into that just because it could relate to officiating.”

Hemelgarn said USA Volleyball conducts background screening for all referees and coaches. “Primarily the flags would be offenses involving minors, or drug or alcohol offenses,” he said. The check looks seven years into the past to look for issues.

Pappas and Corstange work with high school officials, so the state association handles the checks.

Embrace Diversity

Some assigners, particularly at the high school level, face the mandate — or at least a strong suggestion — from those in charge to hire minorities.

“I don’t think we have done enough to involve diversity in athletics as far as officiating is concerned,” Carollo added. “And when I say diversity I’m not just talking African-American. There’s a lot of nationalities out here that got excluded in the past. Let’s use females as an example. Most women did not have the opportunity to play football so there’s less women going into it. But today it’s changing. And I think the coaches will buy into it. They understand. It’s a different world than it was in the ’60s and ’70s and where a lot of the coaches came out of when they were playing. So it’s a concern of mine to make sure that we do uncover and identify all the best officials possible.”

Hemelgarn said the volleyball community has been working to be more inclusive of women. “I think there’s really an active movement to keep women involved and get them involved and to challenge them regardless of whether it’s boys’ or men’s or girls’ or women’s big matches,” he said. “I think there’s an effort to put them on those matches. And many of them do quite well, and we’re always looking for that diversity or that strong background and presence on the court to give them opportunities.”

Pappas comes from a state with a great mix of races and nationalities. Exposing athletics to those cultures is a way of recruiting future officials. “We really try to look at the populations of our state and try to get more people involved so that kids of that particular nationality or race are aware that’s a viable option for them,” she said. “We lose so many potential officials that don’t understand how to get involved in officiating. If you don’t see someone who is like you, whether it’s female, whether it’s whatever nationality you are in that avocation or that profession, you’re probably not going to go in that direction because you’re not seeing people. It’s that homologous reproduction thing. If you don’t see somebody who looks like you, you’re probably not going to go into that field.”

To that point, Hemelgarn cited the story of an African-American referee who wanted to move up to a national level certification. “On the USA Volleyball website, we have an officiating page that has pictures of all of the national level referees. And he came to me and he said, ‘I went to that web page and I was looking for a mentor. I was looking for somebody like me. I want to be up at that level because the next guy behind me wants to look up and find another referee just like them.’

“I had never thought of that before, and it was really kind of an eye opener for me,” Hemelgarn said, adding that the referee in question did advance to the national level.

Use Evaluation Input

It is difficult to conduct training sessions during the course of a basketball season. But Lopes has one idea that is along those lines.

“After each of our games, all crews have to report to me at least two plays that they questioned themselves about,” he said. “By the next morning I have an email from each of the crewmembers with the time of the two plays. In the morning we can re-evaluate what took place the night before.”

When it comes to hiring observers, Corstange fights the same budget battle as many assigners: Everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but no one wants to pay for it.

“Our state has developed an observers program, and I think that has really helped to evaluate officials and to give us as assigners input to what crews are like, what individuals are like and so forth. But I wish I had more people out there to help evaluate officials to give me more input so I know how to assign properly and do the right thing. I go to the conferences that I work for and say, ‘Can I get $500 to help pay some people to go out and help evaluate?’ And they’re going to say, ‘We don’t have the money.’”

Pappas said her state has tried a couple of different evaluation systems. “We had tried active officials and, of course, that becomes, ‘He said I’m terrible because he wants my games.’ We’re using retired officials and training them through the system and keeping them current in the rulebook and doing more and more with that to make sure that we have eyes on. Because at the end of the day what really does make an assigner’s job so much easier is to make sure that we’re aware of the talents of our officials and the skill level and where they should be as opposed to where they end up.”

Assigner Advice

Despite the trials and tribulations, assigning is a necessary and important component of officiating. What advice would the panel give someone who is or wants to be an assigner?

Remember that you aren’t just filling games, Carollo said, but building a staff. “If I only can give (newer officials) a couple games, I will call other conferences and try to share officials to give them more assignments. I will call neighboring conferences and say, ‘Why don’t you take this guy?’ We both like this official, let’s help this official.”

Corstange said if he were new to assigning he would check with veteran assigners. “Find out what it’s about, what needs to be done, what are the ups and downs, the pluses and negatives,” he said. “Be prepared for it before you’re thrown into it. I feel I was kind of thrown into it, and so I’m learning as I’m going.”

“What’s important for me,” Pappas said, “is being visible and having people know that I’m out watching and showing up at camps and going to different parts of the state. Because if I’m ultimately the person between the stamp of approval on a state tournament assignment, people will say, ‘It’s not fair. She’s never seen me work.’ If I’m not out working with officials, seeing them … I think people have a skewed perception — they feel like you don’t even know who they are.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. He is a veteran high school and collegiate football official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 11/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – No Regrets

Time to Step Up!

Regrets can be haunting. Don’t be that official who looks back at a game and says, “If only I had done this … or that.” Learn how to do the right thing in the first place.


By Tom Schreck

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to get a call right and still blow it. That’s a tough regret to live with, but it’s even tougher to live with the regrets that you could have avoided. You can do things while the action unfolds in front of you to minimize your regrets and you can do things away from the game for your career that will have you looking in life’s rearview mirror a lot less.

Be aware, put yourself in position and be prepared, not just to make the right call in a contest, but to make the right career moves. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid some of the most common regrets from officials.

I Regret … Not Taking Care of Personalities

Officiating requires dealing with difficult people who are often at their worst, especially under the stress of a close contest. Letting their behavior get to you personally can take you away from the game, but ignoring it brings its own issues. There’s a delicate balance to keeping control of the game and yourself but, like it or not, sometimes you have to face it head on.

You may tell yourself that the hot-headed, foul-mouthed coach with the explosive personality disorder is just blowing off steam. You may reason that addressing the situation will only escalate the disruption. You could be rationalizing your way out of a situation that you should address.

“When a coach is getting vocal it takes away your concentration. You wind up babysitting him or her instead of paying attention to what’s happening between the lines and your concentration isn’t on the floor,” Michael Price, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, says. “If a coach or a player breaks your concentration, you need to deal with it.”

For Price it’s not about his ego or punishment for the obnoxious coach; it is about addressing a factor that is interfering with his ability to call the game. Take the personalities out of it and keep it simple. It’s about doing your job.

Despite what many fans and coaches may think, officials are flesh and blood. Each individual has a different level of tolerance. For some, the gnawing relentless heckling from the bench blends into the white noise of the contest. For others, it becomes a thorn in the side of focused attention.

Knowing you’re not the only official in the world is important, too. Keep in my mind that if you don’t take care of business you might be leaving a mess for another official to clean up later in the season.

“I may know the personality of a coach and the things he or she says may not offend me,” says Robbie Guest, an NCAA Division I softball and baseball umpire. “Still, I have to address it because if what he or she is saying is inappropriate and he or she says it to another official later on, it’s going to cause a problem.”

Taking care of the situation and dealing with poor behavior so that the game can progress naturally does not mean escalating the situation. Be direct, assertive and responsible without throwing gas on the coach’s sizzling embers. Check your own ego at the door and rely on the subtle confidence your experience has brought.

“My job is to be a calming influence and if I escalate things I really regret that,” Randy Wetzel, a 2011 NCAA College World Series baseball umpire, says. “It makes me look bad as a professional.”

Walking the thin line of addressing the situation without escalating it is as much art as it is science. A fair amount of social skills, body language and a few choice words can get the job done and it is an easier strategy than taking on an ego-driven coach wanting to go head-to-head.

“The first time I hear something out of line I might look toward the dugout with my mask on. The second time I might take my mask off, give a look and let them know that I don’t want to hear any more. The third time they do something it means time for an ejection,” Guest says.

Keep your mind clear, leave personalities out of the situation and deal with what’s in front of you before it becomes an unmanageable problem that you wish you had taken care of earlier.

I Regret … Not Making the Big Call

A good official knows the game is about the contest and the participants. By nature, officiating is not about garnering attention.

Many like to say, “When you do your job well, you are invisible to everyone.” But that sentiment can get in the way of optimal performance. The rules and games often call for difficult and unpopular calls at crucial times. Those attention-drawing calls have to be made, but sometimes an official won’t make them because he or she wants to stay in the background. That is a mistake and one that can linger.

“The big call in the big moment is why we’re there. It is the point where all of your training and study comes to a head,” Guest says. “You don’t want to let the excitement of the moment influence you. When I know a game is on the line, I want to be sure that I’m in position and in the right place so I can slow the game down in my mind. At that point I just rely on muscle memory to make the call. A lot of times I don’t realize how big the call was until after the game.”

Keep in mind the players are responsible for their actions. Officials are there to enforce the rules and manage the contest. It is up to you to assess what you see and take action. It is not your fault or responsibility when a player screws up at a crucial time.

“Sometimes we carry the burden of the situation rather than examining the facts. We’re there to make the decision and to uphold the rules. It is not our job to think of the circumstances around it,” says Ben Trevino, NCAA Division I soccer referee.

Avoid feeling responsible for how the contest will ultimately be decided. Make the calls you need to make based on what the players do while in front of you. Let the chips fall where they may and go to your next assignment without regret.

I Regret … Failing to Write the Report

A good part of any profession, in or out of officiating, is taken up with what can seem to be an excruciating amount of minutiae. It’s a necessary evil.

Adopt that type of attitude and don’t expect to get a lot of assignments. The reporting requirements to conference and association leaders are there for a reason. You may get all the calls right when you blow the whistle or call safes and outs, but you’ll live to regret not taking care of business after the buzzer sounds or the final out is called.

“Not doing reports correctly can hurt referees,” Trevino says. “I’ve seen it. Basically it’s part of the job and a requirement. They are hiring you for your services and not doing them puts a strain on administration.”

Internet blogs are set up to criticize officials, so supervisors can be aided by backup documentation to support decisions that wind up under the microscope. Supervisors want to support you and cover themselves because their reputations are on the line as well. Information is power and organized documentation can help you, your supervisor and your organization come out with your respect intact.

“Getting your reports done correctly and on time isn’t glamorous, but it is important,” Wetzel says. “I’m an assistant vice principal of a high school so I’m used to writing reports. Don’t editorialize, treat your writing like it’s a court case and get the facts. Leave your emotions out.”

The attention to detail is vital. It will help for down the road when the situation is called into question.

“I write down facts that will be hard to remember later on,” Guest says. “When something happens I jot down the inning, the coaches and assistant coaches’ names and the important circumstances that will go into a full report.”

Report writing is tedious and isn’t glamorous, but we know the devil is in the details. If you want to avoid your own private hell get the reports done on time and in order. It will save you headaches down the road.

“Failing to complete the required reports puts a strain on administration,” Trevino says. “You can wind up putting people in a bind and ultimately, I believe you’ll be less likely to get a future assignment.”

I Regret … Not Taking Care of My Appearance

You probably didn’t get into this because you liked the show “America’s Next Top Model.” You love the game and you want to be close to it. You care about getting the rules right, staying in position and keeping the contest fair. You have no interest in walking down a runway, so why focus on appearance?

“People form an impression of you in the first seven to 10 seconds,” Wetzel says. “You can be the greatest official in the world, but if they have already made up their minds about you because of the way you look, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If I was a young guy trying to break in I’d do everything I could to look my best.”

Looking good is superficial, but much of your responsibility hinges on the intangibles of things like respect, leadership and confidence. A waist line with the Michelin stamp on it or having as much trouble navigating the field of play as Oprah would have doing a chin up isn’t going to help perceptions. A lean physique and a pressed uniform gives off the message you want conveyed. Keep it simple and give yourself an advantage that is easily in your control.

“Half the battle is won by looking the part,” said Wetzel. “If you’re at your best appearance-wise you’ll look like an official who knows what he or she is doing. Give yourself that advantage.”

I Regret … Not Taking the Extra Career Step

It is common for officials to feel like their careers have grown stagnant. If you’ve been stuck at the same level, doing the same games in the same conference for years and you want to break out, you have to ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to advance?

You can build your career or you can choose to not take those steps because they cost money, involve travel or are inconvenient. Make the latter choice and you’ll live with the regret.

One of the simplest ways to open up doors is to attend camps and clinics.

“In today’s world it is the only way to advance yourself,” said Wetzel. “Attend as many camps and clinics as you can, even if you’re not getting assignments. Simply put, if people don’t know your name and who you are, you simply are not going to get games.”

Part of the formula is honing your game skills and staying on top of rule changes and approaches, but the networking and face-to-face contact is just as important as any education. That isn’t about manipulative do-anything-to-get ahead salesmanship. It is about making connections, developing camaraderie and letting the industry know who you are. In our world of Facebook, iPhones and Blackberries, sometimes it is easy to forget face-to-face meetings.

“It is important career-wise and it is important on a personal level,” Guest says. “Many of the camps have a real reunion feel to them and you get a chance to visit with people you see only a handful of times a year. It also translates into better performance because you develop relationships with people who you will wind up working with on the field.”

The fact of the matter is that people have to know who you are to assign you. Word of mouth isn’t efficient and it is only natural for those doing the assigning to go with officials they are familiar with. Instead of getting resentful of those who seem to have an “in” you can take the necessary steps to promote yourself.

“If you’re an excellent official and no one knows you — and I’m not talking about a good ol’ boy network — you’re not going to be noticed,” said Wetzel. “They have to be able to put a face to a name.”

You could make the next step in your career. It might mean joining a new association, paying the dues and traveling to camps and clinics across the country. Sure, it’ll take some cash out of your pocket, some time off from work and a few days away from the family, but the rewards are likely to mean a step up in your officiating career.

Failing to make the move to put yourself into that position will certainly be a tough regret to live with.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 7/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 9 Easy Ways to Kill Your Career

There are a lot of long and promising careers available for officials of all levels. … And then there are career-killers. You don’t want to dig your own grave. Put down the shovel and know the actions to avoid.


By Tim Sloan

Call it what you want: The funnel, the meat grinder, the system, the process; whatever the metaphor, the concept is the same: If there’s something worth doing in life, chances are there are more people who want to do it than there are places for them all. Some will be discarded. Not everyone who goes in one end comes out the other.

The world of sports takes no prisoners in that regard. If you’re an athlete, the odds are far better that you’ll be a starter on your high school team, then the number three person in regional sales before you retire from your last pro athlete contract. When the talent is that good, and the opportunities so few, you don’t have to be that bad to fall by the wayside somewhere.

Arguably, officiating has become the same way. There might have been a time when hard work, spunk, knowing the game and a willingness to make the commitment was all it took to move up. If you were willing to sacrifice your home life for your avocation, there were more people willing to let you try. Nowadays, we seem waist-deep in fellow officials who always want more than they have and, in the true spirit of the rat race, will do whatever they can to get to “The Show.” But it isn’t always clear who will succeed: Some of the can’t-miss people we know wash out, while others less gifted slug it out and eventually wave to us from the tube every Sunday afternoon.

Referee development has become such a concerted process today. One of the consequences is that the people who identify and promote officials can point to many different ways that someone in the mix can do him- or herself in, despite their ability. Rising players derail themselves with bad choices, immaturity and burnout mostly. So do promising officials. They lose sight of the fact that assigners have plenty of people willing to work with them; they can do without people who think they have diplomatic immunity to the law of the jungle. Here is a list of nine such showstoppers to fine careers and some feedback from people who work with the up-and-comers about how it all really works.

1. Fall to Adequately Prepare

To many of us, that may sound like nothing more than not staying in game shape or keeping your uniform and appearance in order. There’s an element of truth in that and, particularly as we all get older, the people who realize that it’s easier to stay in shape than get in shape carry the day. Darrin Sealey, however, thinks poor preparation runs deeper than that at the higher levels. Sealey is the college baseball umpire coordinator for Mid-Atlantic Officials and is well known in NCAA circles; he worked the 2009 College World Series. His job is to identify and develop umpires along parts of the East Coast and has worked with some who were their own worst enemies. He says he sees some umpires with good potential become stranded at the lower levels for reasons having nothing to do with balls and strikes. He thinks some umpires fall into a “high school” mentality of squeezing games into their schedule and not devoting the level of preparation to them they require.

“A lot of people think pregames happen an hour before game time,” Sealey says. “Pregames start days, if not months, before that first game. If (an umpire) is showing up 30 minutes before game time because he’s not leaving work on time and driving through D.C. traffic and then he’s rushing to get his plate gear on, he’s going to have problems. His mind-set then is ‘everything’s sped up; everything’s sped up’ and everything does speed up in his mind.”

That makes his onfield work suffer because he hasn’t had the time to focus and get into the groove that’s required to perform at that level before the game starts.

J.B. Caldwell is an NCAA basketball official who also assigns and trains college officials in Florida and he agrees with Sealey. “One of the biggest issues I’ve had with people trying to sustain themselves at the college level has nothing to do with being on the floor but managing issues off the floor,” says Caldwell. “I lean on saying that someone that fundamentally is not well organized is going to have a tough time.”

In an eagerness to move up, some officials take on too much and don’t give themselves the hours in the day necessary to mentally prepare for their assignments. Succeeding at the upper levels requires a strategic approach to travel, study, exercise and rest that some handle better than others. Some try to work beyond their limitations and their work suffers.

2. Don’t Follow Through on your word

Gil Urban wears a number of hats around Michigan soccer through his work with U.S. Soccer and says moving up in the soccer world requires a couple of things. One is meeting the requirements of U.S. Soccer’s assessment process. The other is keeping up your image and the demand for your skills through all the games you have to work in the process. Urban calls it being unprofessional when officials start missing assignments they agreed to work.

“Someone who has a tendency to be late, or even worse than that, misses an assignment,” gets a rep he or she doesn’t need, Urban explains. “People will say, ‘He’s a great ref, but there’s a 10 percent chance he won’t show up,’ because he’s just not professional enough to manage his calendar, his time and his lead time.” Many assigners will take their chances with Jimmy Olsen if they’re worried Superman might have to flake at the last minute.

Being reliable extends to more than just making it to assignments, however. Nowadays, competent officials are called upon more to help evaluate other officials, attend meetings, show up for camps and whatever else their bosses deem desirable. It’s all part of the deal and it’s no longer acceptable to play elitist and tell your boss what you will or won’t do.

3. Trash Talk

Some would call that biting the hand that feeds you. Whatever the term, it’s never good to run down your boss to others. The way things work today, the grapevine will strangle anyone who thinks slagging others is an anonymous crime. When that kind of intrigue gets back to Sealey, he says it isn’t so much a question of his own sensitivity to criticism; more that it’s a symptom of a more serious disease.

“One in 10 guys is always complaining,” according to Sealey — about his assignments, his partners or even how they came up with the names for the planets. “Two or three out of 10 will always have some complaints, too.

“Zero of the hardcore complainers ever makes it because they burn themselves out,” he says. Officials who choose to take issue with others eventually end up having too many demons to fight and their reputation collapses. That happens because they’re guilty of the next item on the list.

4. Shirk Accountability

Caldwell says there are some officials an assigner can never do enough for and it manifests itself in a lack of self-effacement. “Not accepting responsibility or taking ownership,” for your success, he says, is no way to operate. “If you’ve got people in denial when you’re working with them, it’s hard to overcome their deficiencies.”

Face it, every official has work to do to get better and some officials either don’t see that or believe any admission of weakness will lower them in the eyes of the assigner. Sealey contends that just the opposite is true. “The first thing I’m looking for,” he says, “is an eagerness to learn.” And that, for him, implies the understanding that you have something to learn.

“I want the new guy to love the game of baseball,” Sealey adds. “If he doesn’t, he has some other motive for working for me and that scares me.”

5. Don’t Pay Attention to the Boss

A good way to learn is to consider that the assigner, assessor or crew chief has something worthwhile to say. Urban sees officials who will instead react by blowing off the credentials of a trained assessor when a less-than-glowing report is turned in. OK, maybe one afternoon can be a bit rough, but Urban believes you have to look at all your evaluations as a body of work, often presenting a recurring theme. Give the people who pass those judgments some credit and heed what they tell you.

There’s more to it than taking criticism well, though. Sealey has had people come to camps who say, “I’m just here to be evaluated, not to do the education sessions.”

“Ninety-nine percent of mechanics are the same way everywhere,” says Sealey. “Different coordinators have their own interpretation of the other one percent and, if you don’t educate yourself in your assigners’ expectations, you’ll have trouble.”

Maybe that’s the Me generation at work, rebelling against anything we didn’t think of first, but one can see how that causes problems. Working on any officiating crew is not an exercise for mavericks. If an official is glugging his or her own bathwater instead of working within the system, everyone suffers. That is generally followed by the boss having strange phone conversations when he or she should be in bed sleeping. If you establish a reputation for not serving the boss, it will be a short-lived one.

6. Be Fake

I remember Andy Dufresne offering some career advice to a fellow inmate in The Shawshank Redemption. That fellow had been in and out of jail since the age of 10. “Perhaps you should consider another line of work because you’re obviously not a very good crook,” Dufresne said. Caldwell has similar advice for officials who choose to be less than truthful with him or anyone else.

“People that give me fantasy reasons why they can’t attend meetings or manufacture excuses that simply are not true — I don’t go on missions to check these people out but the grapevine is healthy and alive,” says Caldwell. Most assigners can handle the truth and accept that life sometimes gets in the way of officiating. As long as it’s still an avocation for 99 percent of all officials, Caldwell would prefer people tell him what he might not want to hear than manufacture something they think he does want to hear. It’s called credibility.

Sealey is amazed at how many people will lie on their resumés when they apply for a job with him. They’ll say that they worked in a certain league or with certain partners when, charitably, their memory apparently fails them. “Especially with the Internet these days,” he says, “it’s so easy to go online and check people out.”

To continue the Dufresne analogy, Andy created an alter-ego as an imaginary financier to help launder money extorted by the evil warden. He eventually took on that identity to abscond to Mexico with millions. It helped that he really had been a bank president before going to prison; it made it so much easier to have other people take him seriously. Those would-be officials, who tell prospective bosses they’re something they’re not, will eventually be found out … probably the first time they step on the field. Typically, they pad their resumés to gain an edge, and that’s because they’re trying to …

7. Force the Close

“I’ve never had an umpire tell me he thought he was moving too quickly in his career,” assures Sealey. There might be some officials who prefer to take a little more time to pause and smell the flowers along the road of life, but most are willing to have it all thrown at them: Bring it on! In fact, some of them are so sure of their abilities that they tend to reject the process for being checked out by a potential new boss.

Caldwell says there are a lot of things he can do to appraise talent, including evaluating their athleticism, spending time with them, giving rules tests and the like. He can also find out a lot anecdotally about their relationships with their peers and things like aptitude, values and character … but until he sees them in a pressure-packed situation, he never knows for sure how they’re going to respond.

“And you really can’t manufacture that in a summer camp setting,” says Caldwell.

So, that is the rub. Officials have to accept that they won’t get to work for someone without having been personally observed by that person or someone he or she trusts. Sealey says, “I’ve had people who said, ‘I don’t try out for anybody,’” when asked for their schedule to check up on their application. All of them have been wished the best of luck in their future endeavors: they won’t work for him.

Relax. Networking among assigners is very common and that means the fear of “trying out” shouldn’t be that big of a deal: The assigner’s probably heard enough favorable things already about a candidate to warrant a look-see at all. The flip side of that is that sometimes officials just don’t work out in some leagues. Caldwell and Sealey say that’s not often the end of the road. When somebody inquires about the ability of an umpire who’s seeking greener pastures than his, Sealey has no hard feelings. He says he’ll give an honest assessment of the person’s strengths and weaknesses but never render a personal opinion in the process. Most assigners see an official’s success as a combination of ability and the right environment, so moving on from a bad situation isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

8. Misidentify Where You should be in your Career

Urban sees officials who view progression as a sort of checklist to be ticked off, as tasks are completed. “You hear, I’ve now worked 122 games at this level, so I’m ready to be upgraded,’” he says. Perhaps because an experience factor is defined in the U.S. Soccer progression, some officials take it as the only thing they have to do — especially if they don’t like the tone of some of their assessments. In fact, a lot of sports have their share of officials who believe that “time served” should be the only true measurement of promotability. In that case, maybe the system is as often to blame for the official’s frustration. The human mind, in absence of the concrete, can conjure tremendous fantasy. Competitive officials need honest and actionable feedback and, if they don’t receive it, make things worse by guessing at their true weaknesses and fixing the wrong things.

Urban, Sealey and Caldwell all agree that the systems now exist to provide feedback from myriad sources — coaches, officials, assigners, observers — and present it coherently to the officials who need it. At the high school level, some states do a better job than others, however, due to the availability of resources: That’s a problem, and it may reflect itself in the retention rates of officials. At the college and professional levels, the case is usually one of ample feedback, sometimes brutally rendered. Those organizations have realized the value of, and invested in, developing officials thoroughly and keeping them for the long haul.

9. Don’t Self-Analyze

Ultimately it all comes down to the effort of the official to improve. You can reduce your chances of lung cancer by quitting smoking. Same with cirrhosis of the liver and quitting drinking. But you can’t avoid disappointment by quitting listening. No matter what you say on your resumé, what you think of the assigner and how bad the coaches are in your league, some officials still succeed, while others don’t. If you find that things aren’t going well for you as an official, ultimately it comes back to what you have decided to do about it, or not. If you aren’t prepared to be honest with yourself about what has to change and then commit to do it, all of those other issues are moot. And in some cases, it really is the end of the road; you’ve reached your level of incompetence: Get used to it.

When officials have conflict and trouble in their careers, the experts say that it often stems from asking the wrong question: “What’s in it for me?” Conversely, the great officials continue to persevere and to learn and they never think it’s about them. Sealey remembers finding that epiphany when he went to Omaha in 2009 and looked around at all the great umpires he worked with. To him, flourishing as an official is now simple: “Focus more on who you’re with and what you’re doing than where you’re at and who’s playing,” Sealey says.

Never be bigger than the game.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, officiates high school football, basketball and volleyball. He is a former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 9/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’ve Been Meaning to Say …

Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a dead end in officiating. It’s time to say what you need to say. Just make sure you say it the right way.


By the Referee editors

We’re used to practicing restraint in conversations with coaches and players, because saying it like it is could cost us our careers. But should being “safe” in what we say extend to those in and outside the industry who are on our side? So often we want to say something to improve our crew, association and career, but don’t because we’re afraid we might offend someone or don’t know how to say it the proper way.

It’s time to speak up … and we’ll provide you with the guidance to say the right things when it’s time to talk to your partners, crew chiefs, assigners, local and state association leaders and spouse.


1. “You’re not good; you stink.”

As much as you want to and as much as it might be warranted, that’s an example of what not to say. But you should say something. Confronting a partner who is not making the grade is difficult but important. Start by bringing up some positives (there must be a few) in his or her game, and then share some aspects your partner needs to work on and offer positive suggestions on how he or she can improve.

2. “Just shut up.”

Some officials like to talk and they need a reminder to zip it. Cover the topic in your pregame or postgame. Stress the importance of staying focused on the game and the perception problem caused by talking to the nearest coach between every inning or break in the action. It might take video of the game along with your words to really drive the problem home. Seeing is believing and will hopefully lead to golden silence when appropriate.

3. “Stay for the postgame.”

Games can go long, but the partners that “can’t” take an extra five minutes for a postgame talk can drive you crazy. We’ve all got things to do and we want to get home, but a few minutes now could help tremendously in the long run. If your partner is flying out of the locker room as soon as you enter it, unless it is for an emergency, insist that the official stays. Flat out tell your partner he or she needs to stay. And explain why you are insisting. Most officials will stay, possibly grudgingly, but that’s a start.

4. “Lose weight; take a shower.”

If your partner literally cleaned up his or her act and dropped a few pounds, bigger and better assignments would likely be waiting. Sometimes it takes a crewmate who is a close friend to tell the official. It’s easy to ignore issues if no one brings them up. But if you tell your peer the need for improvement, it might be the kick in the pants he or she needs. Before having the talk, you better makes sure your look and hygiene are in order.

Sure, your partner has to want to make a change, but hearing from you that it’s necessary is important. Explain that it’s all part of a professional approach, a little thing that pays dividends toward overall perception. If you’re fat and obviously not in good physical condition, you’ll be perceived as lazy, whether you are or not.

5. “Go to a camp.”

If your crewmate would get it through his or her thick head about the benefits of attending a camp, maybe he or she wouldn’t be whining so much about not getting better assignments. After you attend a camp, share with your partner how much you have learned. Encourage your crewmate to attend with you next time. Highlight the benefits of attending a camp: learning new philosophies and being seen by the people who are in position to give you better assignments.

Tell your peer, “If you can show the clinicians what you can do, you just may get a chance to show them during the season and postseason as well.” That’s a message he or she can’t refuse.

6. “Stop calling in my area.”

When your partner calls in your area, it’s fairly obvious he or she doesn’t trust you or doesn’t know where to be looking. Either way, your partner’s not watching his or her own area.

Show and tell your partner, “I can handle my area and I don’t appreciate getting shown up by you on a play or situation that is there for me to judge. Worse, now I have to explain to the coach standing next to me why I didn’t make that call and you did. You’re not making my job any easier. You don’t have to be Superman out there. Let’s work as a crew to manage this game.”

Speaking your mind is important. Then you must listen. Maybe your partner doesn’t trust you (and for good reason). Earn that trust.

7. “Be on time.”

Talking to your partner about showing up on time will help him or her in the long run. Maybe work commitments are an issue, but by being consistently late or rolling up five to 10 minutes before the game begins, your partner is harming the reputation of the whole crew. Some reasons for promptness to stress include: It offers a chance for a pregame to work on mechanics, crew communication, presence, rules enforcement, etc. That will help your crew to get into a productive mind-set for games.

8. “You’re not a player anymore.”

A lot of former players move toward officiating to be a part of the game. They just need to remember that they’re not playing the game anymore. A reminder that the glory days are over can be important at times. Stress that, as a sports official, he or she needs to act like one and dress like one. Showing up to a game wearing sweatpants, the latest name-brand basketball shoes and a T shirt are no-nos. It’s about the game. A good way to show respect toward it is how you dress while arriving to the event, during the event and afterward.


9. “Get rid of Joe Smith.”

If a crewmate isn’t good enough or capable enough anymore, and your crew chief is keeping the official around when he or she should be gone, it’s important to talk about it. The conversation should be done privately without the other crewmates. Then you have to ask some questions: “Why do you insist on keeping this guy or gal on the crew? I know you two are friends and have worked together a long time, but it’s affecting the crew’s overall performance. Have you talked to him or her about performance or retirement?”

By avoiding the problem, you may prevent an awkward conversation, but your crew’s rankings will likely take a hit. Make clear to the crew chief potential issues with inaction: there’s a good chance others will gradually leave, state tournament assignments will not be in our future, etc.

10. “Relax.”

If a crew chief is on edge, crewmates are likely going to be as well. With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder some crew chiefs get a little uptight. If something goes wrong, it’s their fault. But if a crew chief is uptight, it’s difficult for the rest of the crew to remain calm and officiate the game. Advising your crew chief to “relax” is important, but along with that should be an offering of assistance from the crew. Maybe officials could volunteer to rotate leading a pregame or postgame discussion.

11. “Be prepared. Have a pregame.”

Some crew chiefs are so relaxed or lackadaisical that they don’t even have a pregame. In that case, you need to ask for one and get the backing from the rest of the crew when you do. Pregames are important, no matter what the level of experience of each member in the crew. Just because you’ve been working together for years doesn’t mean that everything will run like clockwork. Your crew chief needs to be reminded of that. A heads-up on the teams, coaches, game management and everyone’s assignments will go a long way. If a pregame gets old, vary the style/format.

13. “It’s OK to say ‘no’ to games.”

Burnout is real. If you think your crew’s assignments were too much to handle the previous year. Talk to your crew chief as early as possible before the next year’s scheduling and explain that it’s OK to take a break and say no to a few games. In fact, it would be healthy for the crew to have a few more days off. The rest will pay off late in the season.

14. “Get off your high horse.”

We don’t recommend using those words, but getting the message across is important or you and your crewmates may grow to resent your leader. Getting the message across should begin with a positive: “We all know that you’re a good official and that’s a major reason why we selected you to be the crew chief, but understand that it’s not all about you. Put others on the crew up on a pedestal here and there. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, too. As good of an official as you are, you can be even better by adjusting your attitude.”


15. “My schedule sucks.”

If you’re not happy with your schedule, it’s OK to voice some concerns. Saying it “sucks” might give you no schedule at all, which would suck even more. So how do you get the message across without using the wrong words? Ask the supervisor/assigner what you need to do in order to get better or more games? By asking the question, you’re conveying your displeasure with your schedule in a productive way.

16. “Why was he or she on this game?”

Assignments don’t always make sense, but questioning the assigner’s judgment isn’t recommended. If you don’t agree with an official assigned to a game with you, use the methods within the system to question it. Maybe it’s a peer evaluation or maybe you ask the assigner if he or she will review the game video and evaluate your crew. That brings your partner’s faults to the forefront without throwing him or her under the bus.

17. “How about standing up for your officials?”

“You know what that coach did was wrong, but you aren’t doing anything about it. We elected you and you are a member of our board. Why should we have to put up with that from a coach?” Assigners and supervisors should have officials’ backs when tough times arise. In order to expect a lot from them, officials must work with high integrity and professionalism.

18. “Take care of the coaches.”

If it goes beyond one incident and coaches show a pattern of behavior, officials have a responsibility to the game to ask assigners/supervisors to take further action. Tougher sporting behavior requirements are a possible solution. Fair is fair. Tell the assigner, “Don’t ask us to be professional without expecting the same from them.”

19. “Don’t forget where you came from!”

Administrative duties can cause some assigners and supervisors to forget their oncourt and onfield roots. So how do you remind them? You might want to say, “You are one of us … or at least you were! You know our personalities, our good traits and our bad. You know what sets us off. Don’t just sit in your office and schedule games … be an effective champion for us!” A better approach might be to talk to the assigner about a specific issue, asking how he or she would have handled it when officiating. It reminds assigners/supervisors of their background and reintroduces the challenges you’re facing.

21. “Evaluate more!”

Evaluating is another topic that should be brought up by the group. If you and the members of your officials association want the assigner to see and evaluate more games, you should list it as part of his or her formal duties. That gets the message across from the masses and will make more of an impact on the individual. And as a result, the assigner will better see who can really officiate and who can’t.


22. “The meetings are lame.”

It’s obviously boring to have someone read from the rulebook at meetings and most officials associations have moved beyond that. But some local association meetings are indeed boring and lame. If you are not happy with your association’s meetings, it’s OK to voice your concern to leadership. But along with your constructive criticism, you better have some meaningful suggestions on how to engage and challenge membership in another way. Without the ideas, why should anyone listen to you?

23. “It’s the 21st  Century! Use technology.”

One way to instantly boost your local association’s meetings is through the use of technology. Suggest to your leadership that a PowerPoint presentation would add wonders to meetings. Oh, and video plays would make them even better! If you are good with technology, leaders may even solicit your help in preparing some of the multi-media presentations.

24. “Nobody cares about the war stories.”

If meeting presenters are using too much time to regale members about that “one game in Brown County,” it might be time to ask that presentations stay on point and remain focused on education. If leaders want to share their war stories, they can do so after the meeting over a beer (with the few members who haven’t heard them before). The best time to address a long-winded presenter is after the meeting in private. Don’t embarrass your leadership by asking them to zip it during the meeting presentation.

25. “Join NASO en masse.”

If you’re a National Association of Sports Officials member, you know the benefits of membership. Don’t keep those to yourself. Pitch NASO group membership to the leaders in your local association. Group membership allows all the officials in your association to get insurance, educational discounts, MICP consultation and more from NASO through a discounted group membership rate. The details of group membership, available on the NASO website (naso.org) provide leaders what they need to know to join.

26. “I’m leaving for a better association.”

It’s never easy saying goodbye, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with an officials association if it isn’t living up to your expectations and helping to make you a better official. Have the courage to tell your group’s leadership in person that you are leaving for another association. And go the next step. Tell them why. It may hurt or upset the leaders at the moment, but it may actually help them grow in the future.

27. “Give us a voice.”

If association board members are making key directional decisions without the input of the general membership, it’s appropriate for you and others to speak up and ask board members how your voice can be heard. But understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. With too many different voices, nothing gets accomplished.


29. “Stop using coaches’ ratings (unless they work).”

The fact that most zeros are from coaches that lose and the high scores come from winning coaches should clue state office leaders in on a problem. Coaches often aren’t objective when they’re emotionally invested. But the problem is that studies have shown that officials aren’t very objective when it comes to rating peers either, so there is no easy solution. Ideally you can suggest that assigners, retired officials and administrators evaluate periodically to check accuracy of the scores. Beyond that, ask the state office to throw out the really high and low ratings.

30. “No one does the test by themselves.”

The truth is a lot of officials share answers on rules tests. Painting fellow officials in a bad light to state associations isn’t exactly recommended. But bringing such a problem to the attention of your local leadership to address with the state is appropriate. Suggest that the state office vary the order of the questions or provide other requirements. It will help to weed out those who are taking the easy way out.

31. “Give us some real training.”

Yes, there are some officials who cut corners on tests, but there are many who want to learn as much as possible about officiating. In order to do that, it’s OK to ask state associations to expect more of local associations in their educating roles. Maybe they can require associations to be certified and to provide proper training for officials. On a greater scale, suggest the state office host a state officiating day each year to provide extra education and motivation. State offices won’t know what you want unless you ask for it.

32. “Watch a game.”

In order to know what we’re going through, in order to have a handle on the sportsmanship issues we’re dealing with, in order to understand the professionalism we exhibit day in and night out, state office leaders need to watch some games. State office leaders should watch officials work in various sports once in a while. Inviting a state leader to your next game probably isn’t the way to make an impact, but working through your local association to ask state leaders how often they get to see a game or inviting them to a big rivalry game, might be a way to say what you want to say.

33. “Give us the benefit of the doubt.”

Officials understand that they make mistakes. But whether they make a mistake or not, they are doing their best on the field and court, and they hope and expect the state office to support their efforts. State office personnel should have your back when coaches are “crying” that you lost the game for their team. One call, no matter what time in the game it occurs, is just a call. Teams win and lose games. If your state doesn’t support you like it should, contacting state leaders with the backing of fellow officials is appropriate.


34. “It’s not all fun and games.”

We all know there is more to officiating than getting on the field or court to ply our trade. In order to do the job properly, there is a lot of work to do and not all of it is fun or glamorous.

If all you ever talk about with your spouse is the after-game dinner you have with your crew, instead of the difficult run-ins with the visiting coach, he or she won’t understand the full picture. Share the ups and downs of officiating with your significant other.

35. “Where do you think all the money comes from?”

Seems a bit sarcastic to go over well with any spouse. But reminding him or her how officiating positively impacts the family is important. The more games we work, the more money we make. That money buys steak once in a while instead of hamburger. It means one more night’s stay at the theme park hotel on vacation with the kids. It allows us to set a few extra dollars aside for emergencies, like car repairs or a new furnace.

36. “Officiate with me.”

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The shortage of officials is addressed and couples get some “us time” by officiating together. Working with a spouse means you have a partner you know and trust. It means double the extra cash flow and a lot of shared experiences to discuss around the dinner table. Be prepared for the answer, though. If your officiating is an escape from work and family issues, bringing your spouse along might not be the brightest idea.

37. “How come I’m always right outside the house but never inside it?”

An official knows in his or her heart when a correct call has been made. While coaches, players and fans may not like the decision, they have to live with it. That doesn’t work away from the court or field, so when a spouse disputes a “call,” it can be more frustrating than when it happens in a game. But if your spouse is the crew chief in your household, you might just have to live with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question though (or maybe it will, but it would be worth it to hear your spouse’s answer).

Ahh … deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good to speak your mind? It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the right words.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 7 Things You Must Know About Game Contracts

Sports officials use contracts all the time, but do they know what they’re all about? Because officials don’t fit the mold in terms of employer/employee, it is a must to know the essential elements of a contract.


By Alan Goldberger

Game contracts are a part of officiating. Every officiating assignment — at every level — represents a contract or part of a contract. Contracts are the vehicles that bring your game assignments to you. At the end of the day, contracts do more than that — they define an official’s rights and responsibilities.

Just like every sport has ground rules, there are rules that go with game contracts. Officials need to know those rules.

1. What is a Contract?

An old lawyer (older even than me) once said: “In the legal business, when we want somebody to sign something we call it an agreement. When we don’t want them to sign it, we call it a contract.” In truth, there is no difference between the two. The term “contract” simply denotes an agreement between two or more parties that creates legal obligations. So, a contract is really not a piece of paper with writing on it, but a meeting of the minds, marked by an exchange of promises. Sometimes, but not always, contracts are put in writing. Either way, in a game contract, the expectations and the obligations of the assigner and the official come to life: I promise to work the game. You promise to pay me a game fee. If it were only that simple. Now that we know what a contract is, what else do we need to know?

2. The Essential Elements Parts of a Contract.

Contracts have “recitals” and “decretals.” Recitals in contracts are basically the contract’s mission statement: They give some of the background and reasons behind the parties forming their agreement.

Decretals include who does what, including the obligations that we have to officiate, the event, the responsibility of the league, school or organization to pay us, and everything in between. Representations is a fancy word for statements made by the contracting parties: What do you promise to do? What’s your background? Who are you? Who are your partner(s)? What are your credentials or accreditations, which in some states would be licensing and in some states, certification.

Independent contractor descriptors are a good thing to put in the contract to help determine if we’re independent contractors or employees. Can a contract assure that officials, coordinators and assigners are independent contractors? No, but contracts that describe the nature of the assignment sure can help.

If we are the assigning agency, obviously we need to put in the contract at least the following:

• Who’s playing.

• What they are playing.

• Where it is going to happen.

• How much we are going to pay.

• What time we have to get there.

• How many officials will work the game.

• Their positions.

Is it a good idea to include items such as security, parking, the locker room and the site manager? Yes and no. If you are the assigning agency, of course, you don’t want to promise anything you can’t deliver. If you are the official, you’d like to see all those items in your contract. Either way, those are topics that are adequate fodder for officiating contracts.

3. Whose Party is This?

Who are the parties to our game contracts? In the area of game contracts, the nature of the industry tells us we have a big cast of characters. Assigners, leagues and conferences immediately come to mind. In some areas teams engage officials directly or indirectly. At various levels of sport, sponsoring entities, youth programs and other entities will reach out to officials or their associations. And don’t forget that municipalities and other public entities engage officials, as well as officials associations. All of those persons, institutions and organizations could be parties to a contract to officiate.

Often we have officials engaged by one person or entity to work for another. A good example is college conferences will engage referees or umpires who are not working for the conference, rather working for the home school that is required to pay the officials, the contracts so recite.

From the official’s perspective, know who you are working for; often the person assigning the games is not the person who pays the game fees!

4. Creating a Legal Relationship.

Does a contract need to be in writing? Not necessarily, but it definitely helps avoid misunderstandings to have a well-written agreement. How about third-party companies and the electronic method of assigning? Many assignments are made via email and various proprietary software applications. Regardless of the medium — software, email, web-based — or if the contract is parchment, a notepad or on the back of an envelope, all can be evidence of a valid contract.

Regardless of the form, it is what’s in the contract that creates the obligations and rights. In recent years, Internet and email-based game assignments have streamlined the process. At the same time, questions arise. If you are making assignments, what kind of arrangements do you have with the assignment agency? Is the assignment agency also the one facilitating the payment of your game fees? Questions we want to be asking include: Where are the fees parked until the time they actually go out to the officials in the form of a deposit, a debit card or check? If you are on the assigning or hiring end of the contract, make sure that the company you deal with is insuring or segregating those particular funds and that you can get the money back if needed. If you are on the officiating side of the deal, make sure you know who is paying you regardless of whether it’s check, cash, electronic funds transfer or direct deposit.

The legal relationship aspect speaks to whether or not officials are independent contractors or employees. Contrary to public opinion, there is often no black or white answer to that question. Rather, the answer will often depend on a particularized analysis of a number of factors. From the hiring entity’s point of view, if you’re concerned about making officials independent contractors, a key strategy is to educate and train just as much as you can (that’s what we’re about as officials). We want to regulate and control only as much as we need to, but no more.

Our contracts outline who does what as far as working a game and who was assigned by whom and whom that official is working for. Beyond that, the statement that you are an independent contractor because it says so in the contract may work and it may not.

5. Contractual Ground Rules.

Every game has ground rules and that is no different with game contracts. The ground rules obviously have a lot to do with the standard of performance. How do referees and umpires conform to fulfill their contracts?

Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” But that’s not quite enough in our line of work. Now, it’s what happens before and after the game that can get us in legal difficulty, in public relations difficulty and in all kinds of difficulty that we need to be concerned with in our contracts. For that reason, game contracts need to deal with the before and after part as well. Therefore, game contracts should incorporate by reference, for example, “a high school basketball game under NFHS rules” or, in some cases, the applicable casebook and the manual. Tell them what rules we are playing by. That really helps a lot. Those are the ground rules of contracts.

No matter the sport, somebody is watching from the time we arrive till the time we drive away with or without the police escort. Pregame and postgame deportment has become an important part of game contracts.

For example, a well-drafted contract could outline pregame and postgame deportment, including proscriptions regarding comments about teams and personalities or actions that detract from the appearance of impartiality that all successful officials must maintain.

6. What If?

In addition to the basics covered, game contracts allocate responsibility when the wheels come off the wagon. How can that possibly happen? Well, what if the game is off? Obviously there are cancellations, everything gets cancelled once in a while, even a wedding or two. Certainly a ballgame, once in a while, gets cancelled. What happens if the game starts, but it doesn’t finish? Environmental factors could have an impact on that, and other reasons like civil insurrection or the officials couldn’t control the game, which might lead to early termination. Lots of things can happen with games that start and don’t finish, like games that start and finish badly or games that don’t start at all.

What happens if the officials don’t show up? What do we do? Do we cover it in our contracts? We should. What happens if the official sends a substitution, but forgets to tell Mr. Assigner or Ms. Commissioner? What do you do in that case? Suppose both coaches do not want a particular referee, even if there were no other officials available on the face of the earth? What happens if we have aberrational conduct where the game is on, but the official is off? Unfortunately, reports of bizarre conduct of officials acting in an antisocial and aberrational manner abound. Sometimes that results in officials being asked to leave by the governing authority. What do you do in those cases? Do you have it covered? Does your contract earn its money?

Officials have administrative responsibilities after the game as well.

Recent NFHS rule changes in most sports specify that the officials’ job is not over until all required reports and correspondence are completed after the game. Therefore, we may still have some work to do after the game, particularly if there were disqualification or worse. That work should be provided for in your game contract.

Social media sites often feature sports officials with photographs posted, some with conference affiliations or officials with high school affiliations who have said, “I worked for Joe Smith at West Dingbat High School last week, and I’m working for him next week, and he’s not going to get away with what that crew let him get away with two weeks ago.” It happens. Officials who inhabit social media sites and talk about personalities are looking for trouble. Many officials don’t think about the consequences of ill-advised digital gossip. That’s why we have to address social media in our contracts.

7. Short-Term Benefits – Long-Term Exposure.

As officials, we are what the retailers and the marketers call seasonal merchandise. The economics of officiating often dictate how many games an official will get, who he or she will work with, and if he or she will have to work with that official again. The official may declare that he or she “deserves a better schedule than that.” Truth be told, whatever contract an assigner offers, officials are likely to sign because they get to work. So, basically, if you’re an assigner, an administrator or an assigning agency, you get to choose your weapon — choose whomever you want to send to the game consistent with your association’s regulations.

Hopefully, you get to cover the game and you get to dictate the terms.

Finally, if your officials are your employees and you are their employer, you may be responsible for the mistakes they make that result in legal liability. The questions that will be asked in many cases: Who hired these guys? What did they do about training them? Don’t you supervise them? Do they often let the game get out of control? In most cases, should litigation arise, the question becomes, “What did they do about supervising?”

Those are some of the key elements that cover the legal landscape of game contracts. While the list is not all-inclusive, an understanding of the basics can help navigate the ground rules of contracts for officials and their assigners.

Alan Goldberger is an attorney and former sports official from Clifton, N.J., who wrote the book Sports Officiating: A Legal Guide.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 12/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

All Sports – Eight Ways to Ruin Your Reputation

As an official all you have is your reputation. Screw it up and say goodbye to assignments and your career. Here are eight sure-fire ways to ruin what you worked so hard for.


By Tom Schreck

1. Be high maintenance. The men and women who assign you to games and evaluate your performance have jobs to do, deadlines to meet and their own series of constituents to answer to. Do you realize that every time you make their lives harder, their days more frustrating and their hours filled with tedium, they’re remembering the source of their anguish?

“Supervisors and assigners are looking for people who are low maintenance. Everyone wants someone they can trust, someone who will be on time and someone who will get the job done,” Randy Wetzel, an NCAA Division I college umpire, says.

Making your supervisors’ lives easier fortifies your reputation while doing things that they find annoying works against it. Get your reports in on time, be punctual, return phone calls and do what needs to be done even when you find it a pain in the neck.

2. Talk too much. Opinions are a lot like backsides — we all have one. Do your best to keep yours to yourself, especially when you’re out in public. Criticizing someone else’s work is tacky and it reveals more about you than it does the subject of your conversation. Officials, athletic directors (ADs) and coaches all travel in the same tight circles so when you let a “Between me and you …” go, know that it is the furthest thing from being just among friends. Follow what your mom said and don’t say anything — especially about another official — if you can’t say something nice.

3. Create problems off-the-field. Remember you’ve chosen to be an official, so don’t pretend you’re not in a visible profession. Yes, your free time is your own but don’t be so naïve as to believe that what you do away from your assignments won’t impact your reputation.

“Like it or not we have great visibility,” Wetzel says. “People know who you are and when you’re out and about how you act will get back to the coaches, ADs and supervisors.”

Those keg stand photos on Facebook, the tweets about making it rain at the dance club and that arrest for public lewdness will affect how people see you between the lines.

4. Fraternize. Hey, we’re all human and we all crave interaction. Our assignments involve a lot of alone time on the road and the conversation with the Marriott clerk just doesn’t always cut it. It is natural to want to chat up folks that you see on a semi-regular basis but remember your responsibility is to oversee a contest in an unbiased fashion.

“We teach that when you enter a gym, survey the area,” says Steve Smith, a high school basketball and soccer referee from Colonie, N.Y. “Note where the coaches are sitting and find another spot. Be careful not to give the appearance of fraternizing.”

High fives and fist bumps with coaches and ADs get noticed and as innocent as they can be, they get interpreted.

5. Look terrible. Certainly by now you know to keep your uniform in such a way as to communicate your professionalism. It extends off the field and court too, you know. Showing up to your assignment with your ripped concert T shirt and flip flops may make you feel hip, but don’t expect folks not to gossip about your sartorial statement.

“We tell our guys when they walk into a venue to look professional and once you put stripes on you are in charge so it is important to not look like an unmade bed,” Smith says.

Everything you do communicates something. Make sure it’s communicating professionalism.

6. Don’t treat people right. Whether it’s the ballboy showing you to the broom closest that will double as your dressing room, the waitress at the restaurant where you’re getting your pregame meal or the new official working his or her first assignment, no one appreciates mistreatment. Using “Please,” “Thank you” and “Excuse me” goes a long way and their absence goes even further in people’s memories.

“If you’re a jerk to people onsite, that’ll get back to people. You know sometimes at the D-III level, you’re changing in a bathroom and it’s not the ideal environment, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be rude to people,” Rick Mansur, a Division I basketball referee from Marlboro, Mass., says.

The golden rule is accepted universally and not using it will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons.

7. Be all about the money. Every official somewhere along their career got short-changed on mileage, a hotel room or a fair night’s pay because of the unlucky dealing of some cards. We all have to write the checks for clinics and associations every year and we all know the realities of today’s economy. We’re all in the same boat and very few of us are getting rich officiating. Cherry picking assignments or complaining about paying dues is classless and it will cost you more than the amount you write on your check.

8. Be arrogant and unapproachable. The games aren’t about us; they’re about the players, coaches and institutions involved. Emotions run hot and high and sometimes people need to vent about what’s going on. Let them.

“When I came up, it used to be the less you talked the better. Today they want officials who are approachable and coach friendly,” Mansur says. “More and more communication has become crucial and being standoffish is unacceptable.”

Doing the Mount Rushmore act when someone wants to talk something over is just arrogant. Hear them out, be flesh and blood and be about building relationships, not about being the one who was right.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Five Minutes with Lauren Holtkamp

Holtkamp’s transition from D-League to NBA.


Residence: Atlanta
Experience: Officiating since 2004, Holtkamp is in her first season as a full-time NBA referee; worked in NBA D-league for the last seven years and the WNBA for four seasons, including the 2013 and 2014 NBA D-League Finals and 2014 WNBA conference finals; previously worked in multiple collegiate conferences and various FIBA competitions, including the 2010 World University Games and the 2012 and 2013 FIBA Americas Championships.

REFEREE: What was your background prior to officiating.

HOLTKAMP: I started officiating when I was in graduate school, so I had played at Drury University in Springfield, Mo. When I was finished playing I started refereeing with a local high school association, and started out with middle school games in the area, and took off from there.

I played four years at Drury University, a Division II school. We were a startup women’s program my first year there in 2000 and I was part of it to 2004. We made it to the national championship in 2004. So within four years of starting the women’s program there, we were competing for a national championship.


REFEREE: What did you study as an undergraduate and in graduate school?

HOLTKAMP: I was a business administration undergrad, and then stayed at Drury and got a master of arts in communication. I then got a master of divinity at Emory University.


REFEREE: How does a master’s degree in divinity play into what you do today?

HOLTKAMP: That’s a really big question. Part of my schooling included serving as a chaplain in several different environments — at a women’s prison, and a mental health facility, and at a hospital. Some of that work was about being present with people in the midst of a crisis and offering spiritual practices for people to move through really intense crisis moments in their lives. I don’t think refereeing is a crisis moment by any means, it’s a very good thing, but I think that I have learned through some of those practices how to regulate emotion and sort of mentally focus through meditation and things.


REFEREE: What hobbies do you have outside of officiating?

HOLTKAMP: I love to read, fitness, and I’m really an outdoor recreation person. In the summer I’m biking, hiking, anything that will get me outside. I’ve recently started working on some artwork on my own.


REFEREE: While working FIBA, NBA D-League, NCAA, etc., and trying to get into the NBA, how did you keep all those different rule sets in check?

HOLTKAMP: Offseason was a really important time to study the different sets of rules in depth, so I would do this both individually and with study groups in the Atlanta area. During the season I used a study tool that a group of us put together that highlighted the differences between NCAA rules, D-League rules, and NBA rules.

I also had the same study sheet for NCAA and the WNBA in the summer. Then in addition to that study resource I also would prepare individual sheets. An individual sheet would be like D-League rules and points of emphasis for that year that I would need to be focused on, and then I would have that for NCAA.

It was really important for me to compartmentalize when it came to the rules. On a day that I would be working an NCAA game I would study NCAA rules and I would talk NCAA rules with other referees. Then on the days that I would have D-League games I would focus just on my D-League rules and talk D-League rules with referees and get in that rulebook.

A lot of the in-depth preparation happens in the offseason, and then by the time I would get into the season it was sort of about remaining fresh about the stuff that I had learned in the offseason. I did that with individual study sheets and really just compartmentalizing so that my time leading up to that game would be focused on that set of rules that I was using.


REFEREE: You made a decision to forgo a high profile college schedule to make the full leap to a full-time NBA referee. What went into that decision?

HOLTKAMP: I got hired in the D-League and I knew that it was going to be outstanding training. I knew at the time regardless of where I landed in the scheme of refereeing that I would be a better referee for being part of the D-League and getting that training. It was after my second season in the D-League and I’d been hired in the WNBA for the upcoming summer. I knew at that point that I wanted to continue in the system and I wanted to work my way toward being a candidate for being hired in the NBA. I just knew that I wanted to maximize that opportunity and to work at the highest level that I possibly could. I ended up being in the D-League for six years before being hired in the NBA. Early on in the program I knew that I wanted to work toward being hired in the NBA.


REFEREE: What is your schedule like now in the NBA?

HOLTKAMP: I do work some D-League games. Every month it’s common to have between one and three D-League games on my schedule, and then the rest are NBA games. It’s funny, when I was coming up people would always ask me, how many games in a month do you work, and I would say, I don’t know, I just work the games they give me. I would say at this point in my career I would work between 10 and 14 games a month, and one to three of them are D-League games.


REFEREE: Do you prepare any differently now when you have back-to-back games?

HOLTKAMP: I think part of the professionalism piece of this is learning how to take care of myself on the road. That’s something that I’ve been learning from Day One in the D-League and then through my four years in the WNBA. It’s sort of an ongoing process of how to find a way to maintain my fitness level, get study time in, break down tape, and all of that, but also balance that with making sure that I’m eating well, that I’m getting enough rest, and also maintaining the social connections that all of us as human beings need.

I’m just continuing to learn how to tweak that and find a good balance for myself so that when I step on the floor I’ve got the energy, and the mental focus, and the clarity, I’m feeling happy, I’m feeling good. The better I’m feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally, the more expansive my awareness is on the floor and the better decisions I make.

Really, the good work on the floor certainly starts off the floor with my routine and how I’m taking care of myself. I’m always learning from referees on staff who have been around a lot longer and have a lot more experience of different ways to do that. And it’s conversations that we have on staff about how to do that for ourselves so we’re always as professionally sharp as we can be.


REFEREE: What have you learned early on in your full-time career as an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: In the early stages of my career as a full-time NBA referee I’ve learned that it’s necessary to continue to practice the fundamentals of positioning and play-calling every single game. That’s not something that we’ve ever really mastered, so every time I’m breaking down tape I’m still looking at the fundamentals of positioning and my play-calling and decision-making. As important as it is to be constantly doing that, I’ve also learned that it’s essential to practice mental conditioning. It’s an important part of the work also.

I’ve been learning from others on staff and from our professional development program that we’re doing staff-wide in the NBA how to use correct self-talk during the game to stay focused and be prepared for the next play, how to regulate my emotions in high-stress situations, choose effective verbal and non-verbal communication with players and coaches, and then practicing resilience so that both accomplishments and mistakes become learning tools.

My first year I’m really learning how important it is to have both the skill set of the fundamentals of positioning and play-calling, and then the mental conditioning. They go hand in hand.


REFEREE: What would you say is the number-one thing a younger amateur official can focus on now to get better?

HOLTKAMP: I would say the skill of honest self-assessment. By that I mean being constructively critical of their own work in a way that would push that official to be better in positioning, play-calling, rules knowledge, but also recognizing the good things that she or he is doing. Honest self-assessment includes both constructive criticism and sort of a celebration of what that official is doing well.

I always include both when I do tape breakdown, what am I doing well, and what do I need to continue to work on to get better, and tape work is the best way to do that. Also, for an amateur referee I would recommend having somebody do that tape work with that has more experience than you, and is fundamentally sound at whatever level with mechanics and things like that.


REFEREE: Officiating can be sometimes overwhelmingly negative. Is it important to keep a balance?

HOLTKAMP: Absolutely. As much positive reinforcement that you can give yourself, I think it helps buoy you for the constructive criticism as well. If I know that as the lead the timing of my rotations is fundamentally sound, then I can build on that. Because I’ve identified that that’s good, then I need to be patient on plays to the basket, I can build on my solid foundation of rotations that I’m doing, and build on that to say, OK, I’m doing that well, now the next step is to let a play start to develop and finish and be patient on a play to the basket, and judge illegal versus marginal contact.

It can be overwhelmingly negative, but I think it’s really important to find that balance, because you’re going to build on the things that you do well to continue to get better on the things that you need to get better at.


REFEREE: What do you like the most about being an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: I love the environment of learning. On staff, from people who are veteran officials all the way down to our first-year referees, everybody is always striving for excellence and wanting to get better all the time. That is really exciting to be part of that striving for excellence that we’ve got.


REFEREE: What can you do without as an NBA official?

HOLTKAMP: I would say probably the most taxing part of the experience is the travel. That has been true at any level that I’ve refereed, the travel experience. It’s necessary, but I want to continue to find ways to care for myself through the travel, through all the flights that we take, and the early mornings, and all of that.


REFEREE: What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you first decided to go all in on your journey to becoming a professional referee?

HOLTKAMP: I wish that I had learned sooner how to be kind to myself in this process, because that’s really important. Being kind to myself in the process and recognizing that it is a process. In my first year as an NBA referee it would be unrealistic to expect to have the skill or the experience or the ability even of a referee who’s been on staff for 20 years and has seen the plays and been through the game scenarios and things like that.

When I was talking earlier about sort of celebrating the things that I do well as well as being constructively critical of the things that I know I need to continue to get better at, I just wish that I had learned about that balance earlier, and sort of how to be kind to myself in the process.

But I’ve got it now. I understand it now, and I think that any young referee that I would work with I would just want to really reinforce that for them. As important as it is to find ways to be better and strive for excellence, it’s also important to pat yourself on the back and be your own biggest fan.


REFEREE: How important has having mentors been for you early on in your career?

HOLTKAMP: Incredibly important. I really believe that you can learn something from every single person that you work with. Some people have a really deep well of experience that they can share, and some people maybe have less based on where they’re at in their career. I think that you can learn from everybody that you work with all the time, and from yourself all the time as well.

But mentors, every step of the way, have been incredibly crucial for me, and I just so much appreciate the people who have shared what they know and helped me continue to improve and enjoy this work. That’s part of it, too.

Mentorship I think is about honing skills and getting better, and it’s also about camaraderie and a connection with the people that you’re working with so that you’re not out there feeling like you’re doing it alone, because you’re not, and you can’t do it alone. It takes all of us together to do it.


REFEREE: What does being a referee mean to you?

HOLTKAMP: I think this would resonate with any referee, just how fortunate we are to do this work. It’s an incredible job, and it’s such a fantastic thing to be part of. I feel really fortunate to be part of a community of people doing this exciting and challenging work, and we’re in it together. I’m talking all levels of referees and I think it’s really great. I think it’s really cool.

(This column stemmed from an interview published in the 5/15 issue of Referee magazine.)


Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the 5/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

April 2015 Officiating In Perspective with Barry Mano

Robust Self-Belief

Referee magazine Publisher Barry Mano shares his thoughts — taken from his publisher’s memo in the April 2015 edition — on the Holy Grail in the collective endeavor of officiating.

Publishers-Memo-Robust Self-Belief

Publisher’s Memo – Robust Self-Belief – Referee Magazine – April 2015


Download Publisher’s Memo – Robust Self-Belief – Referee Magazine – April 2015 PDF

All Sports – Whatcha Talkin’ About?

Interaction With Players Can Be Productive


By Dave Simon

Questions officials face in contests include: How and when do you interact with players? Do you nip brewing bad behavior in the bud? Do you warn the player who is lingering in the lane? Do you say nothing when the guard grabs the jersey of the onrushing defensive tackle? If you let fouls or violations go the first time, what do you do the second or third time it happens?

Conversely, is it a good idea to praise a good play or positive behavior?

The issue of when to teach, prevent, warn or praise a player may seem more relevant to the contact sports like soccer, football and basketball. But there are certainly situations in baseball, volleyball, softball or others as well.

Early in my basketball officiating career, I had an interesting situation in the Washington, D.C., area. I had the ninth grade boys’ championship game for the Catholic League, some high level basketball for that age group. I was in my second or third year, and my partner, though he had officiated in Wisconsin before moving to D.C., had a similar level of experience. We were skating on our own.

As the game progressed, whining from the players increased to a crescendo. I didn’t know what to do, having never faced that situation. My partner was in the same boat and was deferring to my seniority.

Whether I did the right thing is something to be debated. I wouldn’t recommend it. But here is what we did, and how it affected the game.Early on, when kids complained about calls, I’d talk to them and let them know we’d keep an eye on the plays that bothered them. It was a physical game and we were consistent in letting them play, but it appeared they wanted to whine more than play. By the middle of the third quarter, I’d had enough.

I brought both captains and my partner to mid-court, then read the captains the riot act at the top of my voice, so the coaches (who were also complaining) and parents (ditto) could hear every word in the suddenly silent gym.

My rant went something like this: “We’ve listened enough. Next peep is a technical, regardless of who we hear it from. You got it?” The captains nodded. “Now go tell all your teammates and your coach.” They did. Several parents applauded. I remember parents yelling to their kids, “You listen to that referee and just play ball.”

I don’t advocate that method, but it was an eye-opening experience and speaks to the role we play on the court or field. The result of my extremely loud lecture was that we didn’t hear a word the rest of the game and the kids played at the highest level possible. The last 10-12 minutes was some of the best basketball I ever experienced officiating the sport, and I went on to work 12 years at the collegiate level.

What’s the takeaway? First, there is no golden rule when to send a message to a player. You can take a moment to speak to someone during a timeout, between innings or as they’re heading back to the huddle. What you must do is get their attention. A good rule of thumb is talk to them earlier rather than later. It’s just like parenting: Let them (verbally) know the parameters, then enforce.

At younger-age levels, a warning might not be appropriate. There are more teachable moments working 10-year-olds than there are with 14-year-olds. It’s up to you and your partner to decide when to send a teaching message to a player rather than meting out rulebook-sanctioned discipline, and a lot depends on the level and age of play.

I happened to bump into the home high school athletic director (AD) near the end of a bitter rivalry game while living in Columbus, Neb. It was a spectacular game, played intensely. During a timeout near the end of the game, I quickly told the AD what a joy it was to officiate.

On Monday, I got a call from the opposing AD (who lost), accusing me of having the home AD as a good buddy (I barely knew his name), and threatening to blackball me. I gave him the state supervisor’s information and told him to go ahead and let him know, but the takeaway is that someone is always watching, so watch who you talk to, and how you come across.

Praising falls into a similar category. There’s nothing wrong with praising a nine-year-old who just hit a home run. Do that in a high school game and when the opposing coach hears about it, you’re in trouble. You’ll never hear the end of it.

Don’t confuse that with complimenting players for doing something positive like helping to quiet down a noisy teammate, helping an opponent off the ground or retrieving an errant game ball. That sort of communication is encouraged and is often reciprocated.

Even with the older kids, there are times to praise and teach. You just need to be more subtle. Sometimes it’s best to let everyone in on it: “This is a heckuva game, let’s keep it up, guys.”

Teach and praise with the younger kids. Warn and prevent with the older ones. Where you choose to make that line of demarcation is key.

Feel out each game. Know the participants and environment. Is it recreation ball or for the middle school championship? You can teach and praise more in a seventh grade recreational league game than in the game for the conference championship.

Know the difference and choose your words carefully.

Dave Simon, Grapevine, Texas, is a freelance writer and former high school and college basketball official.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 4/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

All Sports – No Hurry, No Worry

Let the Whole Play Happen Before You Call It


By Todd Korth

Sports officials must understand the game they are working or they’re in for a heap of headaches, right? An official must know everything possible about the rules involved, the tendencies of both teams and his or her partner’s capabilities in order to do the best job possible, right?

That’s all true, but that’s not all. With each play it is important for you to know what may likely happen, use the accepted mechanics and always try to be in the best position for the best angle and wait for the play or action to end. And then make the call.

That may seem like a lengthy process, but it happens in a flash. To be ready is to mentally prepare or anticipate an action before making a final decision — call or no-call, foul or no foul, violation or no violation.

Anticipating the play before making the call is one of the best officiating mind-sets to remember. If you can “feel” what’s coming and adjust your position or your visual focus to the right area, you’ll see the play better and have a great opportunity to make the right call. If you decide what you’re going to see before you see it happen, you will get burned.

Good baseball and softball umpires quickly recognize when a team is in a bunt or steal situation. Football officials can sense a running or passing play for a first down or touchdown. Top basketball referees know when a team will probably use full-court pressure or change defenses to attack an opponent. Alert soccer officials know who will likely receive the ball on a corner kick when a player runs from the other end of field into the mixer, and they can anticipate screening and pushing from the opponent. All of that helps officials to anticipate the play, not the call. In that process, apply timing, one attribute that separates average officials from very good ones, and withhold your call until the play is over or the time is right.

In baseball or softball, a runner will be no more or less out or safe if you wait until all action is over. If the shortstop throws the ball to the first baseman, who catches it long before the batter-runner arrives at the base, wait a fraction of a second. There is always a chance that the first baseman will drop the ball or pull his or her foot off of the bag, which may be just enough time for the batter-runner to be safe. In basketball, observe a player attempting a shot and the defender attempting to block the shot before calling a foul. Quick whistles by officials have often negated some great blocked shots, only to ignite players, coaches and fans with anger and frustration. Stay with the play until it’s over and get it right.

Former players turned officials often have an advantage in anticipating a play. As long as you have a feel for what play is coming and adjust your positioning accordingly, you will see the play better. As a result, you’ll get it right more often.

One area of anticipation that can prevent a game from disintegrating fast is when something unsportsmanlike has happened that might lead to retaliation by the offended team. For example, if a player hits a home run and taunts the opposing team while running the bases, be aware of that team retaliating in some way. That could be a knockdown pitch at the next batter or intentionally throwing at the player who taunted them the next time he or she is up to bat.

In some other sports, if a player is fouled hard, he or she may retaliate quickly with a hard foul out of frustration.

By anticipating any type of retaliation, an official can sometimes nip an ugly situation in the bud by warning the other team or player not to engage in that kind of behavior, if there is time. If that doesn’t forestall the expected retaliation, at least you will be in a state of mind to issue warnings immediately in an attempt to calm down what, unchecked, could become an ugly situation.

Whether it’s anticipating a play or situation or just knowing a team’s tendencies, the game will slow down for you that much more. In turn, that kind of officiating mind-set will improve your ability to be in position at the right time and ready to make the right call.

Todd Korth is a Referee associate editor and multi-sport high school and college official.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 5/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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